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General Prentiss a Hero? - The Battle of Shiloh - Civil War Talk - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Thu Aug 28th, 2008 06:43 pm
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5fish
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At the infamous Hornets nest during the Battle of Shiloh the union forces hold off the rebels giving Gen. Grant extra time to bring up reinforcements.

Eventually Gen. Prentiss surrenders the Hornets nest position to the rebel and is consider a hero by the public of that day and later by historians. Gen. Grant doesn't consider what Prentiss did during the Battle of Shiloh as important as the public or historians do. Gen. Grant offers no acknowledgements of Gen. Prentiss actions in either his "Reports" or "Memoirs".

So who is more correct Historians or Gen. Grant about Gen. Prentiss at Shiloh?

Does Gen. Grant know something Historians are forgetting about at Pittsburgh's Landing?

Does Gen. Grant just not like Gen. Prentiss as some Historians claim?

There was Gen. W.H.L. Wallace who's men where at Sunken road and fought as well as Gen. Prentiss men did at the Hornets nest. The action at Sunken road cost Gen. W.H.L. Wallace life but no claims of being a hero. Where is the justice for Gen. W.H.L. Wallace?



 Posted: Thu Aug 28th, 2008 11:47 pm
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I can't keep up with all these different topics!

But, you've hit on a personal favorite of mine in speaking about Prentiss at Shiloh. He was something of a hero to me when I was young and first learning about Shiloh. Hero of the Hornet's Nest and all. The first time I came across anyone suggesting that he may not have been the hero we've always heard about was when I read Wiley Sword's outstanding book on Shiloh. Sword paints a much different picture of Prentiss at Shiloh than the traditional image.

It can get to be a long story, especially when I'm the one telling it. Brevity isn't one of my strong points, sad to say. But the nutshell version is that Prentiss inadvertently contributed to the Union army's unpreparedness prior to the battle, and then later tried to cover up that fact. He also seems to have exaggerated his role in the Hornet's Nest.

Also, Prentiss never gave credit to one of his brigade commanders, Colonel Everett Peabody, for attempting to warn him of the perilous situation the army was in prior to the battle, and who also sent out the dawn patrol that uncovered the Confederate advance, and alerted the rest of the army to the danger. Take away what Peabody did, and the battle will very likely take a much different course than it did in reality.

Peabody was killed early in the battle - a fact that Prentiss did not even bother to mention in his official report. The patrol that Peabody sent out went against Prentiss' express orders, and when he found out about this at the start of the battle, Prentiss actually threatened Peabody with a courtmartial. Not in so many words, but the implication was crystal clear.

When he wrote his official report of the battle, Prentiss largely glossed over what had happened late on the 5th, and early on the 6th. He also appears to have exaggerated his role in the Hornet's Nest, which takes up the lion's share of his report. His version of the fighting in the Hornet's Nest has been largely accepted through the years, and until fairly recently the Hornet's Nest itself has long been considered the battle's defining event. That seems to be changing.

In any case, without making this too much of a novel, my own opinion of Prentiss at Shiloh is that he gave a good account of himself in the Hornet's Nest, but he and his men did not singlehandedly save Grant's army. I also don't care for the way he ignored Peabody. On the Hornet's Nest itself, I think it should still be considered an important part of the battle, but probably not the turning point, as it has so long been portrayed. There was much more to the battle than that.

I do love the whole subject of Prentiss and Peabody though. It's pretty fascinating to me.

Perry



 Posted: Fri Aug 29th, 2008 02:18 am
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What of Grant?

If you read his reports he does not praise Prentiss at all or even mention the Hornets nest. He mention that Prentiss did not fall back and was flank and capture and that is about it.

If you read his memoirs he again does not even bring up Prentiss.

History see Prentiss as this hero but his commander does not even acknowledge his roll in the battle. How could there be this disparity between these men and with history. Who's recollections of the battle is more true?

Grant praises Sherman well beyond his roll in the battle while Prentiss as not acknowledge. I think the battle Grant saw is a different battle acknowledge by history if one thinks of Prentiss and Wallace story.

The famous Grant line to Prentiss "hold at all Hazard" would you not think Grant would have talked about that in at least his memoirs, he didn't.

Am I just looking for trouble where there is no problem...

 

 

 

 



 Posted: Fri Aug 29th, 2008 03:45 am
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Actually Grant does praise Prentiss in his report, along with each of his other division commanders. After singling out Sherman, he goes on to say, "In making this mention of a gallant officer no disparagement is intended to the other division commanders," each of whom he then goes on to name, including Prentiss, and, he adds, "all of whom maintained their places with credit to themselves and the cause." He then mentions that Prentiss was taken prisoner on the first day of the battle.

  He also mentions Prentiss in his memoirs, where his criticism is implied and rather mild. He simply states that Prentiss failed to fall back with the rest of the army "during one of the backward moves" on the 6th, thus leaving his flanks exposed and resulting in his capture. But shortly after that he states that in his memory of his last meeting with Prentiss, at about 4:30 as Grant recalled, "his division was standing up firmly and the General was as cool as if expecting victory." He then goes on to refute the idea that Prentiss and his command were surprised and captured in their tents.

But there's no question to me that Grant viewed as a mistake Prentiss decision to remain where he was after the rest of the army had fallen back. Assuming he actually did tell Prentiss to maintain his position at all hazards - and we really only have Prentiss' account as a source for that quote - I don't think he meant "hold on until you're surrounded." I'm also certain that if he gave such an order to Prentiss, he gave it to other of his division commanders as well. W.H.L. Wallace quite possibly, as well as Hurlbut, and perhaps McArthur and Stuart as well. If any part of that line is breached, it flanks the entire line. And that's exactly what finally happened. Prentiss' position was vital, but no more so than the other units on either side of his position.

But the reason he stayed put as long as he did wasn't from any desire to sacrifice himself or his command for the rest of the army. He simply did not realize how serious his situation was until it was too late. He actually did give an order to retreat once he realized his predicament, but again, it came too late for many of his men.

The irony is that his stubborn stand caused problems for the Confederates, and further delayed their advance. But it was inadvertent on his part. He didn't mean to hold on until he was surrounded. That was the result of a misjudgment on his part.

Plus, the entire story of the first day's battle at Shiloh is one of repeated delays on the part of the Confederate army. The Rebel advance was repeatedly stalled for various reasons, and this quite often took place outside of the Hornet’s Nest line. The main focus of the battle didn't shift to the Hornet's Nest until very late in the day, after the units on both sides of Prentiss and W.H.L. Wallace had pulled back. But that’s really the main point here - it was the total action on the 6th that decided the battle’s outcome, and not just the action that took place along a certain portion of one defensive line.

I’m certain that Grant understood this, and that's one reason why he would not have focused any great amount of attention on Prentiss. His understanding of the battle, immediately after it took place, was different, more all-encompassing, and probably more accurate, than the myth that later grew up around the fighting in the Hornet's Nest. A name that I rather doubt Grant ever heard until near the end of his life, if he ever heard it at all.

But in my opinion, Prentiss was not central to Grant’s narrative because to Grant, what Prentiss did was simply one part of a larger event. In a sense, in fact, I think the history of the battle may be starting to move back toward that view. The image of Prentiss as the hero of the battle emerged later, in part because of Prentiss himself. That wasn't the only reason, but it was one reason.

Perry



 Posted: Fri Aug 29th, 2008 02:22 pm
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Was Prentiss a hero or just a good marketer of self promotion?

In Grants eyes it was Sherman not Prentiss.

Did the historians that came later were just buying into Prentiss self-promotion?

The historians have a bad habit of buying into the best story instead of the true story..

 

Wondering thoughts....

 

 



 Posted: Fri Aug 29th, 2008 03:07 pm
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It was probably a bit of both. However, don't forget that Prentiss had the smallest division in the army and Peabody's brigade was pretty much annihilated by the time of the Hornet's Nest fight. William Wallace certainly deserves more credit than he receieves.



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 Posted: Sat Aug 30th, 2008 12:11 am
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Tim Smith's two books about Shiloh - This Great Battlefield of Shiloh, and The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield - are probably the best sources on the park, and how the history of the battle evolved.

The evolution of the Hornet's Nest as the focal point of the battle apparently had its origins with Union veterans, especially the park's first historian, David W. Reed. Reed's unit, the 12th Iowa, had helped defend part of the Sunken Road near Duncan Field. When the park was created in 1894, Reed was chosen as the park's first secretary and historian. He is the one who is mainly responsible for the park we know today.

He also wrote a history of the battle in the early 1900's, that became the foundation for what could now be called the traditional view of Shiloh. According to Smith (and you can verify this by reading the account itself), Reed's account is rather straightforward and accurate account of the battle that stands up quite well today. But, he also seems to have placed a subtle emphasis on the importance of the fighting in the Hornet's Nest and the Sunken Road, where Reed himself had been located.

But, Smith also makes the point that Reed almost certainly did not intend for the Hornet's Nest to dominate the history of the battle as came to do. (I think he makes this point, although I've also heard it from a former park ranger and I may be getting the two confused. But I'm pretty sure that Smith makes the very same point.) Apparently what happened is that other folks, including future historians of the battle, picked up on Reed's account, and it's subtle, perhaps unconscious emphasis on the Hornet's Nest, and basically ran with it, magnifying its importance beyond what Reed probably intended.

There's more to it, but Smith's book is really the place to turn. You can also read one of the early versions of Reed's original report here -

http://www.shilohbattlefield.org/commission/home.htm

The report has also just been re-released in book form for the first time in nearly 100 years.

As for Prentiss, from what I understand, he was apparently a fairly popular post-war speaker, and in this way did much to help secure his own reputation as a hero of the battle. He was also among those who supported efforts to establish a park on the site of the battle.

So as often seems to be the case, it appears to have been a combination of factors that brought about the story of Prentiss as the Hero of the Hornet's Nest, and the man who saved Grant's hide at Shiloh.

Perry



 Posted: Sat Aug 30th, 2008 02:47 am
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It makes sense now there was no Hornets nest until the years following the war. It was named by the confederates. I assume the union veterans pick up the name over the years as well as historians. In Grant's mind Prentiss and the other were just engaged in some wooden area.

The sunken road was sunk but the Hornets nest was creation in peoples minds.

I don't think Prentiss was anymore a hero the the other Div Commanders trying to hold their line that fateful day. He was just the best promoter out of the bunch.

I have concerns about Reed what little I know about him.

 

Off to ponder....

 

 



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 Posted: Sat Aug 30th, 2008 01:52 pm
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Bama46 wrote: While you are pondering, consider that the Hornets nest is a name given by brave men who fought there.. You have no right to sully their memories or their experiences.
I have frankly had about enough.

You may disagree..You may not disrespect!


Ed


Bama I have not sully any memories or other all I am trying to do is fine the history behind something. Things did not add up!!!

Prentiss is this hero of history!!

Grant never acknowledges anything special about Prentiss service on that day?

I ask why???

No sully memories involved only why??

Now with the help of Warp10 I understand for the most part that there was not a place called Hornets nest until after the battle. So Grant did not know this.. It is obvious that Grant did not think Prentriss did anything more special then the other Div. commanders that day. I see that it is lore that raises Prentiss to his place in Shiloh history with him being a good promoter... I had a question and now it is answered many times the answer it not to our liking but it is truth...

I did not sully any soldiers memory--I have great reference for the Civil War and the people who served in it but I do not like lore hidding the truth...One might like those stoies of lore but we should know the truth behind it... 

 

Bama,

When I read history and things do not add up then I try to find out why??

I do come to these boards for banter but also to answers to my questions. I ask questions in a way so people want to prove me wrong. I will press them to prove me wrong the goal is to find an answer. You may think I am rude or annoying but there is a method to my madness..If I do not strike some passion then there is no banter and no answers for me..

I tried the nice approach an get stock answers that is not finding truth...Bama, I'm just annoying but it is a must....

 

 



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 Posted: Sat Aug 30th, 2008 06:36 pm
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Ed,

If I may, if you are referring to 5fish's reference to there being no Hornet's Nest until after the battle - from what I've read, there has never been any reference found to that term that dates from the war. I think the first known reference dates to the 1870's or 1880's. It may well have been contemporary, especially with southerners who fought there, but the term does not seem to have gained any sort of wide term exposure until quite some time after the war ended.

I don't mean to speak for someone else, but that's the way 5fish's statement read to me.

The same situation appears to be true for the name Sunken Road, which really isn't 'sunken' at all. On one of the anniversary hikes this past April, Jeff Gentsch, a historian who specializes in geography, said that he thinks the "Sunken Road" term may have been conjured up by Union veterans who fought there in response to the attention focused on Antietam's Sunken Road. His theory is that the large ravine immediately behind the 'sunken road' at Shiloh may have been the catalyst for the term.

I don't know if he's right about that or not, but comparing the two positions, at Shiloh and Antietam, that ravine is the only thing that really compares with the location at Antietam. There is nothing "sunken" about the road itself at Shiloh.

I imagine that a fair bit of what we now consider the well accepted versions of history where the war is concerned were not quite so at the time. For instance, I understand that there are no known photographs of the field of Pickett's Charge until sometime in the 1880's. There are numerous photos taken very shortly after the battle, but apparently none from that area. Odd, considering how famous it now is. But perhaps it wasn't always so.

I think I've also read that the charge may not have been considered the high-point of the battle, or at least of the war, until John Bachelder came along and began what you might term his re-shaping efforts.

It's interesting and sometimes even eye-opening to learn about how our history has been passed down to us, and how some of the story has undergone changes over the years.

Perry



 Posted: Sat Aug 30th, 2008 11:07 pm
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His theory is that the large ravine immediately behind the 'sunken road' at Shiloh may have been the catalyst for the term.

Read a book once -- maybe Larry Daniels' -- in which the ravine played a large part in the impenetrability of the "sunken road." The author went into some detail on how some of the troops would climb the slope, hunker down behind the underbrush and blaze away while the balance was down in the ravine cleaning their muskets, refilling their cartridge boxes and taking five. Then some would climb up, others would stumble down and the process continued. The upshot was that every time an offensive formed up, there were relatively fresh troops with clean weapons waiting for them.

And, to horn in further, pretty much all of the famous names we know today weren't in use until the books were written. This included Bloody Pond, Bloody Lane, Bloody Angle, Little Round Top, The Stone Wall, Pickett's Charge, Sunken Road, Hornet's Nest, Peach Orchard, Jones' Field ....



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 Posted: Sun Aug 31st, 2008 02:46 am
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ole wrote: His theory is that the large ravine immediately behind the 'sunken road' at Shiloh may have been the catalyst for the term.

Read a book once -- maybe Larry Daniels' -- in which the ravine played a large part in the impenetrability of the "sunken road." The author went into some detail on how some of the troops would climb the slope, hunker down behind the underbrush and blaze away while the balance was down in the ravine cleaning their muskets, refilling their cartridge boxes and taking five. Then some would climb up, others would stumble down and the process continued. The upshot was that every time an offensive formed up, there were relatively fresh troops with clean weapons waiting for them.

And, to horn in further, pretty much all of the famous names we know today weren't in use until the books were written. This included Bloody Pond, Bloody Lane, Bloody Angle, Little Round Top, The Stone Wall, Pickett's Charge, Sunken Road, Hornet's Nest, Peach Orchard, Jones' Field ....

Ole,

Yes, that's pretty much the way Jeff Gentsch described it as well. In fact, he demonstrated it, by running from the bottom of the ravine to the top, acting as if he was aiming a a gun, "fired" it, then retreated back into the ravine. (His timing was very good - a couple of folks happened to be walking along the road nearby at the time, and when Jeff ran up and went, "POW!," I think it startled them a bit. One of them grabbed his chest and acted like he'd been shot. :) )

Good point about the names.

Perry



 Posted: Sun Aug 31st, 2008 02:52 am
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Bama46 wrote: Clearly these names were not in existance at the time of the battle, but it has been my understanding that the "names" were given by the old soldiers afterwards. If I am wrong, I apologize for that and only that error.

As an aside, while ths sunken road is noy nearly so pronounced as at Antietam, I believe it is indeed "sunken"..ie cut below the surrounding terrain.
I can point to many similiar examples in NW Alabama, about 10 miles upstream from Pittsburg landing.

Ed

Ed,

On the Sunken Road at Shiloh, to be honest, if the name did not already exist, I don't think it would occur to me while walking along it. A bit lower than the surrounding terrain in areas, but not anything that strikes me as very significant.

The other theory I've heard about the origins of the name comes from a Confederate account written shortly after the battle. But some historians - I think Larry Daniel for sure - seem to think he may have been describing a different road, as it appears he never actually saw the 'sunken road' along which the Union defenders were located, that now bears that name.

Perry



 Posted: Sun Aug 31st, 2008 04:39 am
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If you've ever walked the "Sunken Road" Bloody Lane at Antietam, you'd know the difference. At Antietam,that road is three to four feet below the surface on either side. As I understand it, the "Sunken" Lane at Shiloh was maybe three to four inches lower than either side. Not exactly "sunken" by comparison.

The cover in the Sunken Lane was not the depression but the underbrush fronting it. From the Confederate perspective, you could not see the Yanks hidded behind it. From the Confederate perspective, you could see only the smoke. There was no other indication of the man behind it. So you could shoot that way, but there was little hope of hitting someone -- they were hugging the ground. And loading while lying there, and shooting again.

I believe it was Stacey Allen that brought that home to me. If you were hidden in the brush, and there were Confederates advancing against you, you simply shot them as they advanced.

That's one scenario. the other is that there were no pressing charges against the Hornet's Nest. Wasn't no one going to dash themselves against that sort of fire. These guys were not stupid.

"Bury them where the fell, was Grant's order. But there is no trench on that field (Duncan's). It would appear that the stories are a bit lacking.

ole



 Posted: Sun Aug 31st, 2008 01:25 pm
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Ole,

Good points about the cover in the Hornet's Nest. It was the woods and thick underbrush, more so than the road, that really assisted the Union defenders. That and the fact that they only faced isolated, piecemeal attacks. The Confederate army had sort of split in two during the battle, with most of the regiments joining in (or marching toward) the fighting on either flank. For most of the day, the Union troops in the center of the battlefield, where the Hornet's Nest was located, only faced a relative handful of southerners. That eventually changed, but not until late afternoon.

Agreed about Duncan Field. It did not witness the same level of fighting that other parts of the battlefield did. The woods just to the east though, between Duncan Field and the Peach Orchard/Sara Bell Cotton Field, saw its share. That's the area through which most of those attacks on the Hornet's Nest took place. They were nasty affairs, although again, the attacks were piecemeal in nature. But then again, you get into the issue of exactly what constitutes the "Hornet's Nest,' and whether or not Duncan Field should be included. Some folks think the term should only refer to the wooded area between the fields, which is where the term apparently originated. Others (like me) are a bit more general in applying the term. I usually include Duncan Field when I think of "Hornet's Nest" at Shiloh, although I don't consider defining the exact boundaries to be of vital importance.

It's kind of ironic about Duncan Field. What might be the best-known field at Shiloh, and the image that a lot of people probably have of the legendary Hornet's Nest, and it appears that not a single charge made it more than about one-third of the way across it. There are no known burial pits in Duncan Field, and not a single position marker. I think they probably could have put a few such markers part-way into the field, but the ones that refer to the fighting there are located on either side. The field itself is empty.

Perry



 Posted: Sun Aug 31st, 2008 02:44 pm
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Ole & Wrap10

This Duncan field  this supposenly famous place and should have been a killing field and there should be more grave sites closer to the Hornet Nest. I think I am following this line of thought.

This should be easy to find out. They can now scan the ground with sound waves and mark any likely gave sites below ground then a few investigative holes to verify if any grave sites there.

The other is the bodies were moved and buried in the known spots. I doubt this if Grants orders to "Bury where they fell."

Or maybe a Local farmer wanted to use the field for farming again and plowed over any grave markers. In France, the farmers even to this day plow up bodies from WW1.

It is time to recheck the historical record on the burials at Shiloh to see if it supports this line of thought and then call the Anthropologist with those machines that scan under the ground to see if any grave sites have been missed. 

If there are any military graves in that field they should be marked and honored.

Question: So what does this mean for Prentiss and the now fame Hornets Nest? 

 

 

 

 

  

 



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